ANKARA: Amid alarming reports of Syrian refugee killings in Turkey, the trend of violence and the safety of foreigners have become a cause for concern in the country, where refugees were once welcomed with open arms.
The country’s economic difficulties, with high unemployment rates and a decline in purchasing power due to inflation, have caused many to blame foreigners.
The frequent use of anti-refugee rhetoric by politicians has fanned the flames of racism. A Turkish court recently overturned controversial plans by the mayor of the northwestern town of Bolu, Tanju Ozcan, to increase water bills for foreigners tenfold, as well as to charge 100,000 liras (7 $435) for civil marriage ceremonies of foreigners in Turkey.
“They have overstayed their welcome. If I had the power, I would use the city authorities to evict them by force,” Ozcan said. “I know people will talk about human rights and call me a fascist. I just don’t care.
Anti-immigrant sentiment has hardened, exacerbated by an influx of Afghans after the Taliban took control of their country in August 2021.
Last week, Nail Al-Naif, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee, was killed in Istanbul by a group of men as he slept in his room. Eight people, including five Turkish nationals and three Afghans, were arrested.
Another young Syrian was stabbed while walking in a park in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir last week, just days after a mob attacked a mall frequented by Syrians in Istanbul, allegedly after that a Syrian refugee refused to give a Turk a cigarette. .
In November, three young Syrian workers were burned to death in the western city of Izmir after a fire broke out in their apartment as they slept.
Police arrested a Turk, who admitted to causing the fire motivated by xenophobia.
Muge Dalkiran, a migration expert and junior researcher at the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna, said refugees have been scapegoated in Turkey due to continued competition for economic resources, concerns about ethnic balances or religious and security concerns.
“Tension has also escalated due to misinformation in the media, xenophobic rhetoric and hate speech by public figures from different political parties who represent large and diverse groups in Turkish society,” a- she told Arab News.
Dalkiran said that negative attitudes, hate speech and xenophobia against migrant and refugee groups exist in many countries, but in Turkey a major problem is impunity.
“Due to the absence (of a) clear legal definition of xenophobia and racial discrimination, as well as the lack of law enforcement, this leads to impunity for crimes motivated by attitudes racists and xenophobes.
“On top of that, the lack of international protection for refugees also creates a precarious situation for them,” she said.
Because Turkey has imposed a geographical limitation on the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it cannot grant refugee status to its main refugee groups, such as Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis.
“Often, due to fear of detention or deportation, migrant and refugee groups in Turkey cannot even access formal complaint mechanisms when faced with acts of violence,” said Dalkiran.
The number of Syrian refugees under temporary protection in Turkey is 3.7 million people, most of them living in Istanbul as well as in the province of Gaziantep, in the south-east of the country.
More than 2.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey are under 30 years old. Overall, the country is home to about 5.3 million foreigners in total.
Metin Corabatir, chairman of the Asylum and Migration Research Center in Ankara, said there are many examples of xenophobia that go unreported.
“Syrian refugees in Ankara cannot send their children to school lest they face physical violence or hate speech,” he told Arab News.
“They cannot guarantee their own safety and the children are paying for it with their declining school enrollment rates,” he added.
In August 2021, tensions rose in the Altindag district of Ankara, where the Syrian population is concentrated in the capital.
After a knife fight between residents and Syrians, several workplaces and homes of Syrians were targeted.
“(Turkish) landlords in Altindag district reportedly started refusing to rent their houses to Syrians,” Corabatir said.
“The municipality abruptly stopped coal and food assistance to Syrians in the city without giving any excuse. Opposition politicians have started pledging to send Syrians back to their countries of origin,” he added.
“As the date of the legislative elections approaches, refugees and foreigners in general have been used for domestic consumption,” Corabatir said.
Advocacy groups also point to the alarming trend of hate speech in the country against foreigners more generally. Recently, a taxi driver in Istanbul beat up a French woman after overcharging her and her husband.
“We cannot send these refugees back to Syria, which is still not safe,” Corabatir said. “Several international rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have announced that those who have returned home have been subjected to torture, disappearance and detention.
In January, a video was posted on social media of a Turk in Istanbul breaking the doors and windows of a house he owned because after raising the rent for his Syrian tenants by 150% and they refused to pay, he wanted to evict them.
Dalkiran stressed the need for a coherent and integrated approach by political parties and their leaders, the media, academia and civil society to refugee issues.
“Rather than populist rhetoric to secure electoral gains, a human rights-based approach should be preferred,” she said.
“This must be accompanied by social awareness efforts to combat racism and xenophobia, as well as the rights of migrants and refugees.”